Sports is Hell by Ben Passmore

Koyama Press (2020)

From the title on, Passmore is aiming to unsettle. Sports meets Black Lives Matter. Black pain meets white do-gooders meets white militias. The first words are “Bomb out.” Spoken by a child playing, inside real conflict. The last words are, “I don’t understand!” screamed out across the cityscape.

A cheer rises from the football stadium. A police cruiser drives through the neighbourhood. Some kids are playing soldiers with a water-soaker and a wooden gun, when an older man stops them and asks, “Where are the bullets? Where is the clip?. The boy responds, “I emptied it on the pig…” We see the speech bubble of the older man, who continues speaking out of frame speaking over an image of two white policemen standing by their cruiser talking to two young black men. “You don’t play with them. If you point something at them make sure it’s real. Go play with your friends.”

The book follows several people. Each in the own group. The football fans start a fight over whether there should have been a call for grabbing a face mask when the Birds’ star Collins scored the winning touchdown. At the same time, a protest is building non-violent revolutionaries and street-fighters clash as the football fans take over the streets. And we end up in a convenience store when the white militia move in and kill a white man who is trying to help his Black neighbours, but who was uncomfortable with the violence. Everyone is deciding who is on their team, who the other teams are and responding to each other. Seinfeld has a joke about supporting a sports team is like “cheering for laundry” because the players change so often. Passmore has us doing this in life. Even in the fear and chaos of street battles over the results of a football game and civil rights. No one wins when we are all on different teams. “Sports celebration turned to to riot to the formation of hundreds of armed factions.”

Passmore succeeds in jolting the status quos that allow us to sit back and let things happen. How we have fallen apart unable to talk outside our groups, groups that we work so hard to define, unable to hear what the others have to say? And outside forces try to keep us fighting so that we root for them against the others, and at the same time they lie to us that we can all pull together, but we can’t pull together, not because we are on different teams, but because we have real differences in belief systems, financial and physical circumstance, cultures and individuality. The problem with teams is that there are differences across the team. We need to look at our world. Figure out what is wrong and try to fix it. In everchanging combinations, with love not hate.

BEN PASSMORE is a Philadelphia, PA based cartoonist and illustrator best known for his award-winning comic Your Black Friend (Silver Sprocket), which deftly tackles issues of racism, identity and alienation, and was adapted into a short animated film. His political cartooning appears in The Nib, and he is the cartoonist behind the post-apocalyptic series Daygloahole (Silver Sprocket). He will be partnering with Ezra Claytan Daniels (Upgrade Soul) to bring the body horrific BTTM FDRS (Fantagraphics). 

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